By: Tara Demmy, Arden Professional Apprentice
You may have attended A Moon for the Misbegotten and found a survey stuck to the back of your chair with blue tape. You may have attended and asked to stay after the show for a 30 minute interview. These two elements are both part of the Arden’s participation in a national study of theatre audiences aiming to understand more about the intrinsic impacts of live theatre. We are one of 18 theatres involved in The Intrinsic Impact project, which was commissioned from WolfBrown by Theatre Bay Area and underwritten by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.
What does intrinsic impact mean exactly? It took me some time to figure it all out. Basically it’s easy to look at charts and quantify how many people come to see a show and how much money a show makes…but it’s a lot more difficult to try to study how those people felt about a theatrical experience. Companies have been keen to focus on the financial, but money does not necessarily dictate a theatre’s success.
Theatre Bay responds: “But financial data tells only a fraction of the story. A theatre company may be financially sound, but is it really moving and exciting its audience? Is it connecting to its audience in a fundamental (i.e., intrinsic) way? And can that connection be deepened? How can artistic staff understand the impact of their programming decisions, and what, if anything, can they do about it? We have come to see that the theatre field lacks a generally accepted and widely used metric or “outcome rubric” for what matters most: the intrinsic value of the theatre experience.”
How do we measure the immeasurable? Have you ever had an indescribable emotional response to a moment in a production? Live theatre has the power to move us in unexpected ways. Yes, we are entertained, but how are we affected? The Arden received the opportunity to select the questions in our take-home surveys. These questions reflect what we want answered by our audiences. Questions that ask our patrons to assess the artistic style of the production, to evaluate if they were emotionally moved, to see if they felt connected to their fellow audience members and to find out if they are more/less likely in the future to follow the work of the playwright. This information will help us to understand not how many tickets we sold but how patrons are responding to the art. This will help the Arden to continue to provide great stories and be on the forefront of artistic progress in the country. To always connect to the Philadelphia community and continue to challenge our patrons with new ideas and stories.
Post-Performance Interviews: Our in-person interviews cover the same topics mentioned above, just in a discussion based format. Engaging in these interviews with Leigh Goldenberg, Arden Theatre Company’s Marketing and Public Relations Manager has been amazing. To hear how people connected to A Moon for the Misbegotten in different ways has been a truly unique experience. Many have a quite a bit of knowledge of O’Neill, and give much historical information with their reactions, while others who are less familiar focus on intense production moments. Intense bonds were formed between audience members and the character of Josie, in her strength, compassion and heartache. Even now it is difficult for me to summarize the feelings expressed by those individuals in the interviews, which emphasizes the main difficulty in trying to gather information on unquantifiable, personal reactions. This difficulty is what makes theatre a strong artistic form; its ever-fleeting, ephemeral nature gives it the power to present unforgettable, poignant moments that stay with us.
I admire the Arden’s participation in this survey and Theatre Bay’s dedication in attempting to get a better idea of how theatre can have a lasting, emotive impact on society. We are continuing interviews and surveys for Superior Donuts and Wanamaker’s Pursuit. Thank you for your support!
For more information, please visit Theatre Bay Area.